Will a Lower Cost iPad Air Boost iPad Sales?

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As we close in on the month of March, which seems almost certain to hold the promise of an Apple Event, the rumors of new iPads continue to abound. However, in the last week or so, they seem to have taken a turn. While there is growing certainty that there will be an event in March, whether we will actually get iPad hardware that soon is now being called into question.

The latest reports from several sites, including AppleInsider and MacRumors have the new 10.5″ and 12.9″ iPad Pro arriving sometime between May and June. While I think we will still hear details about the new device and the refresh of the OG Pro at our rumored March event, it looks like we may have to wait to lay our money down for new gear. While this is disappointing for us fanboys, it may also be by design.

With these potential delays in mind, I am left to wonder about the good old iPad Air 2. When the earlier rumors of a lower cost 9.7″ iPad came around late last and earlier this year, I wrote that this device was likely just the 9.7″ iPad Pro as it stands now, with a slight price drop. It is a newer device than the 12.9″ Pro, and it certainly seems like the rumored 10.5″ model is destined to take its place, since they have the same body size. Rather than refresh it now, why not just drop the price and try to grab more sales for a Pencil-enabled device? Because of this prediction, I assumed that the Air 2 would be phased out, leaving only the iPad Pros and maybe the current Mini left standing.

However, indications over the last week are that Apple actually will realease a slightly updated 9.7″ iPad Air at an even lower price point. This device is rumored to retail starting at $299, which is a full $100 off the current price. With iPad sales and profits having steadily fallen for three straight years, this move makes sense. It makes even more sense in light of the fact that, despite the features and power of the current iPad Pros, the Air 2 and Mini still outsell them. Keeping both the Air 2 and Mini around as even lower priced options seems like a much better idea than I originally thought in such a price-sensitive market.

One interesting thing about the rumors of iPad Pro delays and iPad Air price drops is whether Apple would go ahead and release a “new” lower priced Air in March. I say new because, even with a $100 price drop, I feel pretty certain that Apple is going to at least slightly bump the specs to freshen up this tablet. With buyers left waiting a while for new Pros, many of whom have been resistant to their higher price tag over the past two years, it is possible that Apple will use an exclusive release window for an updated Air to try and give iPad sales a shot in the arm. If so, I certainly hope that it works. If not, then Apple may really be fighting a losing battle trying to turn the tide of sales back to at least even.
Another time to watch iPad sales, and specifically sales of this rumored Air, will be around the Holidays of 2017. The new iPhone will be released and in full production and sales glory by then, but I wonder if Apple is willing to get aggressive with Air pricing, or at least allow retailers to, to spur sales. A $249 sale price (or an equivalent or greater gift card bundle at a retailer like BestBuy) for what would still be a powerful device may get the interest of people who are still using iPad 2s and original iPad Minis. There are more of those people out there than you think.

Considering how long the iPad upgrade cycles have proven to be, how few legitimate competitors there are left to take on the iPad, and how expensive most of them also are, there is a legitimate opportunity to move a lot of new iPads into exiting users’ hands. Considering Apple’s big push into the realm of services and the increasing revenue they are generating for the company, keeping iPad users happy and in the ecosystem is more important than ever. So, be on the lookout for a lower-priced Air refresh at Apple’s upcoming event. I have a feeling this rumor has long legs.


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